Lakeland MLN: Unraveling in the Final Weeks

With just two weeks of the season left the wheels fell off of the Lakeland Flying Tigers. They were only able to manage one victory out of a full slate of seven games. Ending the week by getting swept by the Tampa Yankees sent them back to the cellar in the Northern division.

The Lakeland Flying Tigers started off the week with the Clearwater Threshers. They were able to scratch together their lone win for the week in the series finally at the tune of 10-7 to avoid the sweep. Their ten run offensive outburst was the lone contest which the Flying Tigers scored more than three runs.

To make matters worse they ended up playing four games against the buzz saw that is the Tampa Yankees. Tampa has been the hottest team in the Florida State League since the All-Star break. In the second half the Yankees have cut the fat and started rolling. They are 26 games over .500 and have a .741 winning percentage.

If Lakeland could have scratched out their contests against Tampa they could have salvaged a .500 season. The Flying Tigers are a flightless 1-9 in their games against their rival. This uneven match up played out as expected. Only their first game was close, where Lakeland tied the game in the top of the ninth just to lose it in the bottom half of the inning on the tough to watch walk off walk.

It was one of the worst periods of time for the Flying Tigers to challenge the Yankees since their roster has been in such disarray. Lakeland lost their starting centerfielder Chris White to Erie, their short lived DH Max Leon was also promoted all the while having pitchers Matt Hoffman and L.J. Gagnier inactive for the week. They needed strong efforts from around the horn to be competitive but they fell short.

No one was affected from last week's rain more than Andrew Hess. After nearly two weeks between starts he had some rust build up. If it weren't for Jordan Newton throwing out two runners Hess could have been knocked out in the first inning. He allowed the first five runners to reach with three hits and two walks. Hess struggled for five and two thirds by allowing 13 hits and two walks and six earned runs.

He has been a road warrior lately with his past five starts as the visitor. The hits haven't just been happening in Tampa. In his past five starts he has only thrown 21 and 2/3 innings and allowed a staggering 38 hits. Hess has been living and dying by his opponents BABIP average. In his past ten starts he has sported a 3.38 K/9. Hess's inability to miss bats he has to make sure the contact isn't pure or his starts could turn ugly in a hurry.

There was a bright spot to the game. Richard Zumaya, brother of Joel Zumaya made his Florida State League debut in Tampa. He pitched a clean inning and a third with a strike out. One high ranking Detroit official said "He came in and threw great when Hess was struggling", however the stay was short lived. Zumaya was sent down the next day which isn't a total surprise since he hasn't been knocking the doors down in the GCL. Cutting down his walk rate will be the key to his future success.

Joe Tucker has been on a roll for the past two months. He has been batting a solid .281 while he has been playing positions all over the field. Tucker's OBP the past two months have been .368 and .378 respectively. With his aptitude to take a walk he adds some rare patience in the Lakeland lineup.

Tucker has just been getting better, in his past ten games he has a .310 average and has drawn six walks while striking out just twice. His ability to play many positions and take a few pitches could be the reason why he can get the call back up to Erie in the future.

A very similar player has been Josh Workman. He not only has been hitting for average, at a .306 in his past ten games, he has also been drawing walks. He has drawn seven walks in the past ten games, considering he only drew nine walks prior it's a vast improvement. Now that he has been getting regular playing time he has been improving steadily.

In the long run, Audy Ciriaco probably benefitted from having Hernan Perez on the roster. Since Perez's promotion Ciriaco has been holding a batting average of .317 and has been running wild. Considering he said earlier this season that his weakness was "I'm not too fast" he has proven himself wrong. While Perez has been on the roster Ciriaco has accumulated five stolen bases, which is over a third of his total for the season. With his batting average now climbing Ciriaco has become the most complete player in the lineup.

Management has called in for the cavalry from across the pond in the GCL. Miguel Mejia signed this week out of Pensacola Junior College and made his debut. Mejia features a fastball in the 88-89 mph range with tailing action and a looping curve ball. His premier relief appearance was ruined when he hung a curve to Tampa's second baseman David Adams who pulled it into the berm in left field. Going from an undrafted free agent to the Florida State league is quite the jump but Mejia has an opportunity to prove his worth early.

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